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Like righteous and grace, the word "faith" has several meanings. The Greek word pistis (pronounced PISS-tiss) is variously translated in the New Testament as belief (mental acceptance), faith (trust, confidence), and faithfulness (trustworthiness). Obviously, since these are far from synonymous, one must carefully examine the context of a particular passage to decide which of the meanings applies.

When the word is applied to God, as in Romans 3:3, it is usually translated as "faithfulness," since we conceive of God as so omniscient and independent as to preclude his "believing" something or "relying" on something in a literal sense. The word is also translated faithfulness in Matthew 23:23 (to denote a quality that the Pharisees, although believers, lacked) and Galatians 5:22, where it denotes a fruit of the Spirit that will come to characterize Christians who already believe and trust God.

Faith in the New Testament is both the intellectual conviction that God exists (James 2:14-26; Hebrews 11:6) and the spiritual conviction that, though Christians were unrighteous in our own right, they have become righteous in Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28). In a skillful yet subtle way, Paul links the dual meanings of faith and faithfulness theologically. Non-Jews trust God to save their souls as a direct result of his promise to Abraham to bless all nations through his seed (Galatians 3:14, 29). Although Romans 1:17 is notoriously hard to interpret with precision, it may well mean that God's righteousness is revealed from Abraham's covenant faithfulness (when he was ready to sacrifice Isaac) to Christ's covenant faithfulness (when he offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross). Like Abraham and Jesus, the righteous, whether Jew or Gentile, live by trusting in the promises of God.

Biblical faith is not simply credulity. It has intellectual content based on a coherent message (Romans 10:17) and on the historical evidence of Christ's identity, ministry, death, and resurrection (Acts 10:36-43; 1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Biblical faith is not absolute certitude. It requires a mental "leap" that transcends mere rationality (Luke 8:22-25; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-12, 17-19). If one could be absolutely sure of God, every sane person would be compelled to acknowledge God. If there were no room for doubt, there could be no virtue in faith.

Biblical faith is not superstitious trust; it is not a religious rabbit's foot to rub in tough times for luck. Jesus said that those who trusted superstitiously in their direct lineage to Abraham were totally misguided (Matthew 3:9). For Paul, it is one's imitation of Abraham's complete trust in God and his faithfulness to the covenant that makes one Abraham's heir in faith.

Biblical faith has moral implications. Scripture presents faith as the inward compulsion, not only to trust God but to demonstrate that trust in obedience by bringing forth fruits of righteousness. According to Galatians 5:6, faith expresses itself in love. The shield of faith quenches the burning arrows of the devil, by which Paul no doubt suggests not only the intellectual arguments for disbelief but the many specific temptations to do evil (Ephesians 6:16). By putting their trust in Christ and the power of his saving death, Christians crucify themselves and die to the secular life of sin. In this sense, the moral life Christians live is lived by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20) and by faithfulness to the new covenant. James vividly contrasts lifeless intellectual assent with true faith that proves its existence and power through good deeds (James 2:14-17).

Faith has personal implications (Hebrews 11:24-27). For Christians, as for Moses, faith is the source of moral courage. When people genuinely catch a vision of the invisible God, they no longer fear earthly dangers and deprivation in the same way. To believe and obey God rather than men (Acts 4:19; 5:29) is to tap the very fountainhead of courage. Therefore, as the hymn says, "faith is the victory that overcomes the world."

Comments (1)

Excellent essay. After what apparently were website problems, it's nice to have you back. Best wishes.

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